Romance returns a bit early at the Tennessee Aquarium
Posted: Thursday, March 24, 2011 8:02 pm
Chattanooga — While some humans may still be feeling the effects of this week’s switch to Daylight Saving Time, at least the time change doesn’t trigger hair loss and an overwhelming desire to shout out your loved one’s name.
But to a penguin, the light cycle dictates the life cycle. Everything from breeding to molting is controlled by the photoperiod, or the length of daylight these birds are exposed to each day. Over the past year, the lighting schedule in the Tennessee Aquarium’s penguin exhibit has been gradually changed. This tiny daily time change for the gentoos and macaronis may mean baby penguins appearing earlier than past years.
“The new lighting schedule allows visitors a little more viewing time in the evenings,” said senior aviculturist Amy Graves. “And that subtle change is telling their bodies that it’s time to breed a little bit earlier this year.” In fact, the penguins were given their rocks on Monday, which is about two weeks earlier than previous years.
In preparation for the new breeding season keepers, volunteers and other staff members put in long hours to drain and clean the exhibit, give the birds physical exams and disinfect more than 1,000 pounds of rocks the penguins use as nesting materials.
“Even though the rocks were disinfected coming out of the exhibit last year, we needed to disinfect them again,” Ms. Graves said. “We also needed to pick through them to ensure that none of the rocks were broken or small enough to be swallowed by the birds.”
The fun for aquarium visitors began when keepers brought the “magic” rocks into the exhibit Mnday. They saw macaronis and gentoos hopping around with rocks in their beaks, choosing just the right construction site and building nests. It’s was a rather raucous scene as the birds took breaks to loudly vocalize and steal rocks from one another. On top of that, there was a squabble or two as some of the macaronis quarreled over a mate.
“The gentoos are our steady Eddies,” said Ms. Graves. “They should pair up with the mates they’ve had in the past. But the macaronis are a whole different ball game.” That’s because several of the female macaroni penguins think Hercules is the most dashing male of the species at the aquarium. “So far this year he has chosen Noodle,” said aviculturist Loribeth Aldrich. “But we have seen other females sitting next to Hercules when Noodle’s not around.”
The biggest news may be how many chicks result from the new variables at Penguins’ Rock this year. Tennessee Aquarium veterinarian Dr. Chris Keller says there’s a possibility that keepers could have their hands full this year. “Theoretically as these birds age and become more mature, their skills and success with breeding and rearing their young will improve,” Keller said. “So we think that this season may be more successful than past seasons.”
Pepper, a female macaroni, was successfully raised by Chaos and Paulie nearly two years ago. And last season gentoos Biscuit and Blue successfully reared Shivers, also a female.
While no one at the Tennessee Aquarium wants to count penguins before they hatch, everyone is in agreement that visitors will enjoy another season of romance at Penguins’ Rock. “It’s so much fun to see these birds build nests and watch the drama of the penguin pairs unfold,” said Ms. Aldrich. “We’ll have plenty to observe as eggs and hopefully some penguin babies appear later this spring.”
The Tennessee Aquarium inspires wonder, appreciation and protection of water and all life that it sustains. Admission is $24.95 per adult and $14.95 per child, ages 3-12. Each ticket purchased helps support aquarium conservation programs. The IMAX® 3D Theater is next door to the aquarium. Ticket prices are $8.50 per adult and $7 per child. Aquarium/IMAX combo tickets are $30.95 for adults and $20.95 for children. Excursions aboard the new River Gorge Explorer depart daily into “Tennessee’s Grand Canyon.” Cruise tickets are $29 per adult and $21.50 per child. Advance tickets may be purchased online at www.tnaqua.org or by phone at 1-800-262-0695. The aquarium, located on the banks of the Tennessee River in Chattanooga, is a non-profit organization. Open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas, the aquarium and IMAX are accessible to people with disabilities.
Published in The Messenger 3.24.11